SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Five people were injured, two of them seriously, in a rooming house explosion and fire on Bélanger St. yesterday.
It could have been much worse, but an off-duty fireman from Laval who happened to be shopping nearby with with his wife ran in to begin evacuating the building’s residents within minutes of the start of the fire.
Montreal police are still investigating the cause of the explosion and the ensuing the three-alarm fire, which heavily damaged the three-storey rooming house on Belanger St. between Fabre and Garnier Sts.
Luc Galarneau, chief of operations for the Montreal fire department, said it is suspected that the fire may have been criminally set, so arson investigators were called to the scene.
Galarneau would not speculate on the cause of the explosion. But a charred propane tank lay in a flower planter in front of the building’s front door as firemen cleared up after tackling the blaze, which began shortly before noon.
The building’s residents gathered in nearby cafés and restaurants and took shelter in a city bus for fire victims, which was parked at the corner.
“We heard a big noise and then a second boom. It was terrifying,” said Alain Bergeron, a second-floor resident who was taken to Fleury Hospital, his face blackedned and his breathing laboured. Within a few hours, though, he was released and back in the neighbourhood, trying to find his cat and figure out where to spend the night.
“The sound of the explosion came from the first floor and when we looked the whole floor had fallen right into the basement and all the windows were blown out.”
Another resident, Serge Arial, escaped unharmed from his first-floor apartment. But hours after the fire he was still jittery over the sight of one of his elderly neighbours lying in the smoke-filled hallway, badly burned and crying out for help.
“The whole place shook and in a matter of minutes there was nothig to see but heavy black smoke,” he said as headed to the pharmacy to replace lost medication and then to his mother’s house to spend the night.
“We’ve lost everything, but at least we are alive.”
Fire department spokesman Galarneau said one of the 90 firefighters who helped put out the fire also suffered minor injuries.